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Simple blood test can detect concussions up to a week after injury

Simple blood test can detect concussions up to a week after injury
31st March 2016

A new study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Neurology, has suggested that a simple blood test could determine whether a person has sustained a concussion up to a week after the injury.

The team at Orlando Health believe their findings could significantly expand the time frame in which concussion can be identified, especially for patients who don't display symptoms until days after the injury.

Lead author of the study Dr Linda Papa, an emergency medicine physician and researcher at Orlando Health, said symptoms of a concussion or a mild to moderate brain injury can be subtle and delayed in many cases.

This simple blood test could give doctors an accurate tool to diagnose whether patients - especially children - have a concussion, she added, ensuring that they get the best treatment possible.

Being misdiagnosed can lead to long-term problems, Dr Papa explained, as untreated or undertreated traumatic brain injuries like concussions can cause headaches, dizziness, memory loss and depression.

"This test could take the guesswork out of making a diagnosis by allowing doctors to simply look for a specific biomarker in the blood," she added.

Children could especially benefit from the test as most are diagnosed with concussions by symptoms only. These are usually reported by those around them or by the child themselves but neither give doctors an objective way to determine the severity of the injury.

Along with her team, Dr Papa identified a biomarker called glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP), which is released when a brain injury happens. Importantly, it enters the bloodstream, meaning it can be easily picked up by a simple, non-invasive test.

By looking at nearly 600 patients for three years, the researchers were able to see that the blood test was 97 per cent accurate up to a week after the injury. This is important as many people who sustain concussions won't seek medical attention until days after the injury.

The team also found that the blood test could significantly reduce the need for computerised tomography (CT) scans, which are normally the most accurate way to diagnose brain lesions. However, they are expensive and can be risky for some patients.

"Physicians really want to minimise the amount of CTs in patients, especially children, who are a lot more sensitive to radiation and the side effects that can come with it. Fortunately, this simple blood test appears to give us nearly the same information as a CT scan," Dr Papa explained.

These findings could not only help children, but also make elderly care easier, as older people with problems like dementia may not be able to accurately report what happened after suffering an injury. The new blood test would allow carers to see whether they had sustained a potentially dangerous injury, without having to put them through a CT scan.

"This could ultimately change the way we diagnose concussions, not only in children, but in anyone who sustains a head injury," said Dr Papa. 

"We have so many diagnostic blood tests for different parts of the body, like the heart, liver and kidneys, but there's never been a reliable blood test to identify trauma in the brain. We think this test could change that." she said.

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